‘There are different ways to learn. Mentoring is one of the most effective.’
19 Feb

Before joining EPAM as a front-end developer, Hennadii Shpak worked as a manager for a workshop manufacturing workwear, and before that, he practiced judo for 20 years and became a master of sports.

His mentor played a significant role in his development as an IT specialist. Hennadii now attempts to pay honor to her by mentoring other newcomers. Why it is worth working with a mentor and what to consider — Hennadii talks about his experience with mentoring.

What is it like to be a mentee?

It felt like I was back to square one after a managerial position. During the second stage of training in the EPAM internal laboratory, my mentor was Nataliia Kobzina, the head of the Front-End laboratory at EPAM University in Dnipro. I am very grateful to her. Thanks to her guidance and support, I was able to successfully join the project as a Front-End developer two years ago. When I got to production, I returned to the lab as a mentor. 

How does mentoring work?

Having a mentor keeps mentees motivated because they know their assignments will be evaluated and they will receive feedback. Like with sports, you can work out at home, train on your own at the gym, or join group training sessions. That is, you have different options. In group training, there is competitiveness, a master figure to look up to whose knowledge base works for you and whose system of thinking you can adopt. This way, you can learn faster and try to reach the same level. Of course, you can also learn independently, but there will be no practical advice.

Why do people become mentors?

For some, it is a way of expressing gratitude to their mentor. Some see it as a chance to fulfill a long-standing dream of teaching. Additionally, mentoring gives you the chance to pick up new skills and see familiar subjects in a fresh light. Seeing how your mentee's career has taken off and how they enjoy the work is the reward for your efforts.

Fantastic mentors and where to find them?

EPAM has a well-established institute of mentorship for technical and social areas that begins at the stage of internal laboratory training. My experience and input from colleagues suggest that mentoring is often a driving force for development.

Of course, you can also find a mentor outside of EPAM. Here are just a few ideas of where to look.

  • Probably the most obvious way is to ask your friends who already work in IT. If they are not ready to become mentors, they can at least ask their colleagues in internal chats.
  • Join IT communities. EPAM's We Are Community platform alone has 69 technical communities that periodically hold events, meetings, workshops, and conferences. You can use such communities to find a mentor, for example, among the authors of forum articles or platforms' speakers, and discover internship opportunities. 
  • Follow career portals and public organizations. They occasionally organize special projects to assist young people in making career decisions and planning. For example, in 2022, Happy Monday launched the "Your Career Victory" project, enlisting almost 20 Middle and Senior EPAM professionals as mentors.

What are the qualities of a good mentor?

First, the mentor must have expertise in the area the mentee wants to develop. The core idea behind this approach is: 'Teach me how to do what you do.' The mentee essentially observes the mentor and takes into account their experience, vision, recommendations, and the plan they have drawn up together.

Mentors, like all professionals, are evaluated based on the results of their work, as well as their sincerity and commitment to helping others become specialists. Mentoring entails a responsibility to the mentee and the future team or customer. This kind of cooperation works best when the mentee and mentor trust each other. A skilled mentor knows how to create this atmosphere of trust. With time and practice, you can become a true master in this. 

How do you collaborate with a mentor effectively?

  • Be proactive. Ask your mentor questions, tell them what is difficult for you, and ask about their experience. Contact them if you have questions or concerns or want to discuss something.
  • Help your mentor help you. Only you know what a mentor can help you with. So, talk to your mentor about your educational and professional interests, goals, and needs.
  • Keep your promises. Most likely, your mentor accepts the additional responsibility of mentoring on top of their full-time job. Be appreciative of their time and efforts. Work hard, finish your tasks, and promptly react to questions and comments.
  • Be open-minded. It means being ready to take in new information, see things differently, and react positively to advice and constructive criticism.
  • Expect support, not miracles. A mentor can provide guidance and assistance, but they cannot magically fix your problems. Instead, a mentor can offer fresh perspectives, feedback, tips, and resources to help you with a particular issue.

My experience as a mentor

Since 2022, I have been a mentor in the eKids program for children, the internal EPAM lab, and external partner schools. Each time has been a different experience. Sometimes, when the focus was on self-study following the plan, my role as a mentor was to check homework, occasionally answer questions from program participants, track mistakes, and give recommendations.

At the EPAM labs, learning is done differently; it is more community-oriented, with more interaction, communication, immersion in the subject matter, and maximum engagement. When it comes to teaching children, I am still unsure if I have conveyed all the necessary information or if there was a better way to approach the topic, even though I did my best. Engaging children and motivating them to learn and overcome obstacles requires greater effort, especially, in an online setting.

To be or not to be? If you ever want to become a mentor too

I don't like to advise because, ultimately, a person always knows whether they want to do something. People have different motivations for becoming a mentor. Mentoring is unlikely to pay off if someone is only interested in personal gain. However, if you genuinely want to help and contribute to someone's growth, mentoring may be a fulfilling experience.

Still, there are a few things to consider before becoming a mentor:

  • Planning and prioritizing. Sometimes, mentoring takes up to 2 hours a week. And sometimes, as in my case, it is 2-3 hours a day. So be prepared for complaints from your family because you won't have much time for anything else.
  • Understanding the mentee's level. When bombarded with elementary questions and "childish" mistakes experienced professionals may lose interest. Mentorship should be challenging to a degree. 
  • Mentoring is not only about technical skills. Sometimes, it is about saying the right words at the right time. 'You can do this. I will help you,' might greatly improve the mentee's morale when they're unhappy over trying a challenging task and failing. Supporting and encouraging is a part of a mentor's job. Besides, such moments make good anecdotes later when this person successfully transitions to production.

And finally. What do IT and sports have in common?

Focusing on the result. Even when it's hard. Some people give up and fail to go the distance, but others become champions. Whether to give up or not is a matter of character. When I think about this, I often remember my experiences in sports. I trained for a long time with the same coach who had a similar character trait to my mentor Natalia - a sincere desire to help others become better professionals. I aspire to become like them someday.